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Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski


Born July 6, 1923, into a family of landed gentry, Jaruzelski was educated at an exclusive Catholic school during the 1930s. During the German-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, Jaruzelski and his family were captured by the Soviet army and deported to the Soviet Union. There, Jaruzelski performed forced labor in the Karaganda coal mines in Kazakhstan before being chosen by Soviet authorities for Soviet Officer Training School. He participated in the liberation of Warsaw and Berlin as an officer in the First Polish Army, a Soviet-sponsored corps. He further credited himself in Soviet eyes by fighting against the anti-communist Polish Home Army from 1945 to 1947. Jaruzelski joined the Communist Party in 1947.

After graduating from the Polish Higher Infantry School and general staff academy, Jaruzelski rose quickly through the ranks. He became minister of defense in 1968, shortly before the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in which Polish troops participated. In 1970 and 1976, when riots broke out due to government-imposed increases in food prices, Jaruzelski did not use the army to shoot at striking workers. He supposedly asserted in 1976, "Polish troops will not fire on Polish workers." However, he has since been charged in Polish courts with partial responsibility for the 1970 shooting of demonstrators by the secret police. Jaruzelski rose in party ranks, becoming a candidate member of the Politburo in December 1970 and a full member in 1971.

By the end of 1980, the Polish Communist Party came under increasing pressure from Solidarity, which threatened strikes, and in turn from the Soviet Union, which massed more than 20 divisions on the Polish border for the stated purpose of regularly scheduled maneuvers. In addition to his position as minister of defense, Jaruzelski was appointed to the highest positions in both the party and the state as prime minister of Poland (February 1981) and first secretary of the Communist Party (October 1981). On December 13, 1981, after 10 months of high tension between the government, Solidarity and the populace, Jaruzelski declared martial law, arresting thousands of Solidarity members as well as Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. Martial law was not lifted until July 1983, although Solidarity remained outlawed.

However, neither the imposition nor lifting of martial law solved Poland's economic problems, which continued to plague the government. By the close of the 10th plenary session in December 1988, the Communist Party had decided to broach leaders of Solidarity for talks. These talks, which became known as the "roundtable talks," with 13 working groups in 94 sessions from February 6 to April 15, radically altered the shape of the Polish government and society. The talks resulted in an agreement in which real political power was vested in a newly created bicameral legislature and in a president who would be the chief executive. Solidarity was legalized. After the elections, the Communists, who were guaranteed 65 percent of the seats in the Sejm (the parliament), did not win a majority, and Solidarity-backed candidates won 99 out of 100 freely contested seats in the Senate. Jaruzelski, whose name was the only one the Communist Party allowed on the ballot for the presidency, won by just one vote.

Although Jaruzelski tried to persuade Solidarity to join the Communists in a "grand coalition," Walesa refused. Jaruzelski resigned as general secretary of the Communist Party but found he was forced to come to terms with a government formed by Solidarity. In 1990 Jaruzelski resigned as Poland's leader. Subsequently, Jaruzelski has faced charges for a number of actions he committed while he was defense minister during the communist period.

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